Famous Philosophers: What Did Plato Believe?

The Great Plato
The Great Plato | Source

Plato's Theory Of Forms

  • Plato believed that there was only one 'real' version of anything - the perfect version.
  • Everything else that we see with our senses is just an imitation of this perfect version, or perfect 'form'. The imitations we see are all part of the world of appearance, whilst the perfect forms are part of reality.
  • The best way to explain Plato's theory of forms is through an example: although there are many types of beds (single, double, four-poster), they all share one thing in common that makes them beds: they all try to achieve being a bed.
  • This ideal bed is what all physical beds that we see are trying to imitate, making them imitations and not real forms.
  • Plato believed in this and believed that it is only through thought and rational thinking that a person can deduce the forms and acquire genuine knowledge.
  • Plato states that there the world of forms is timeless - nothing ever changes - and therefore knowledge about the world of forms is genuine knowledge.
  • The world we live in is constantly changing and so any knowledge we think we have is merely opinion and is subject to change.
  • It is because of his theory of forms that Plato believed that philosophers should rule the world, since they are the ones who seek out true knowledge and not just imitations of it.

General Views

  • Plato was one of the first consequentialists - he believed that it is the end result that matters, not how you get there.
  • In his work "The Republic" he describes his version of a perfect society where he supports the Government in lying to its people in order to achieve greater happiness.
  • This is in the context of approving of eugenics where he invented a method of regulated sexual intercourse, allowing it only at special festivals where people are given sexual partners via a fixed lottery. This lottery would be fixed in order to trick people of 'good breeding stock' to mate with each other and produce strong children.
  • Furthermore, children with 'defects' would be disposed of at birth.
  • Plato believed that it is only philosophers who should rule over the lands.
  • Plato believes that only people who have been proven time and time again to make judgements that are in the best interests of society without clouding their judgement with personal interests should be fit to rule.
  • Plato believed that society would work better if none of the 'guardians' (composed of the ruling class and the auxiliaries - those who help the rulers) should own any personal property.
  • He believed that abolishing family units and replacing it with a state nursery that would cease and take care of everyone's (including rulers') children would be best for society, since the children would not have any family-related biases and so would be completely loyal to the state.

The Magnificent Myth or Noble Lie

  • In order to encourage loyalty from the people of the state, Plato devises a lie about our origins, that everybody was born fully formed out of the ground and memories of upbringing were just a dream.
  • In this way, all citizens are encouraged to regard each other as siblings since they all came from Mother Earth, encouraging loyalty to each other and the land that they inhabit.
  • The myth also includes the idea that when God created every person, he added either gold, silver or bronze to their composition.
  • Those people with gold were to be 'Rulers', those with silver 'Auxiliaries' and those with bronze 'Workers'.
  • This meant that if two 'gold' composed Rulers had a child who was deemed to be made of 'bronze' then the child was to be a Worker.
  • Plato devised this extension of the myth in order to encourage people to be happy with their position in life, which was given to them by God and cannot be changed.

An example of the sort of thoughts the three elements of the 'soul' allow. Desire, Spirit, Reason in that order.
An example of the sort of thoughts the three elements of the 'soul' allow. Desire, Spirit, Reason in that order. | Source

A Just State

  • Plato believes that the perfect state would contain the 4 qualities of: wisdom, courage, self-discipline and justice.
  • Wisdom comes from the Ruler's knowledge and wise decisions.
  • Courage is demonstrated by the Auxiliaries who defend the lands and selflessly help the Rulers.
  • Self-discipline arises from the harmony between all three classes.
  • Justice comes from everyone doing what they are 'naturally' fitted for.

The Three Parts of the Soul

Plato identifies three elements of the 'soul'. He uses the term 'soul' but this should not be confused with spirituality or a part of someone that is separate from their physical body. Rather, Plato uses it as a general term for the thing that makes people act..

The three elements are:

  1. Reason - this is much like 'wisdom' in societies and is the element that considers all of the facts known to a person and then decides what means are best to reach the ends. Reason is also concerned with the love of truth.
  2. Spirit - this provides emotional motivation and drives people to act in certain ways when they are angry, upset etc.
  3. Desire - this drives people to act from baser urges such as lust, hunger and thirst.
  • Plato states that sometimes desire contradicts reason and gives evidence of people doing what they want rather than what is best for them.
  • He uses this as evidence for the existence of the different parts of the soul.
  • Notice how the three elements correspond to Rulers (reason), Auxiliaries (spirit) and Workers (desire) in a society - this exemplifies one of Plato's strongest beliefs: that the notable aspects of society are equatable to the notable aspects of individuals writ large.

A Funny Animation Explaining Plato's Allegory of the Cave

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Comments 15 comments

Philanthropy2012 profile image

Philanthropy2012 5 months ago from London Author

The fact that we are still using his thoughts as a foundation for many discussions is really remarkable. Of course, with his profound ideas also came a sea of worthless ones - part of the creative process!

hubber8893 profile image

hubber8893 5 months ago

Very interesting hub. I really enjoyed reading it and I am completely in consensus with Plato in most of the points. It is really applaudable that a man centuries ago had amazing philosophy, perhaps that is the thing that keeps him distinct from general people of his time.

Nadine May profile image

Nadine May 2 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

Wow. An interesting article on the philosophies of Plato, but some ideas were totally lacking any compassionfor his fellow man.Was Plato not the man who claimed to have known about the continent of Atlantis?

ScienceOfLife profile image

ScienceOfLife 4 years ago

Exactly the right Q! Because in this case the string is already connected to the hook. Now, we're actually doing physics my friend!

The string can't pull on a hook by magic. No more than the earth can pull on the moon by magic. They MUST be already connected, somehow. That's why particle physics (i.e. Quantum) has no pull! Hence they invoke ptolemaic explanations (aka circular descriptions). A particle is a perfectly valid hypothesis, no doubt. I can visualise one ball hitting and pushing another. But no pull! :D

So, I say that the fundamental entity we hypothesize (assume) absolutely 100% MUST BE a continuous medium of some sort. But it cannot be aether, this is now taboo and for once rightly so: aether is irrational and has no explanatory power. (Einstein tried to get around it with warped space and all this madness). But he knew it was aether in disguise.

What do we have left? Hint: ropes and strings... ;)

Philanthropy2012 profile image

Philanthropy2012 4 years ago from London Author

"Look: a string pulls on a fishing hook. We're done. No regress. We don't reduce any more."

What allows the string to pull on a fishing hook?

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